By MPP Toby Barrett
Our area is well known for a robust ethnic and multi-cultural presence. We think of the German, Hungarian and Polish Halls, as well as our strong Belgian community, although the hall closed.
Each of these nationalities has some unique traditions, for example, many have a separate St. Nicholas Day in early December.
Stockings or boots are put out by children on Dec. 5 in Germany and are filled for St. Nicholas Day the next morning. In some parts of Germany, Christmas celebrations continue until Jan. 6, with the religious feast of the Epiphany.
The Lutheran tradition of advent wreaths, or Adventskranz, goes back to the 16th century. Each Sunday a candle on the wreath through the month of December.
The German tradition of Krampus takes bad Santa to a new level. Krampus is a devilish sidekick of St. Nicholas who teaches naughty children lessons. Men in Krampus costumes patrol the streets on St. Nicholas night and are invited into homes by parents with misbehaving children.
In Belgium, Sinterklaas brings presents on Dec. 5. That evening children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, along with a drawing or biscuits as presents for Sinterklaas. And more gifts arrive Dec. 25.
On Christmas morning, some families wear Advent crowns made out of fir and parade around towns and cities, singing carols and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. One of the most popular Belgian Christmas symbol is the ‘star’, which symbolizes the birth of Jesus Christ.
Apart from the caroling, the parades, the feasting and attending mass on Christmas morning, Belgian families get together and celebrate the unity and oneness among one another.
Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas day in Poland, as most celebrations occur on the 24th. As a tribute to the Star of Bethlehem, many Polish families wait until the first star appears in the sky to sit down to supper on the 24th. Carols are a big part of Christmas celebrations in Poland.
One unique Polish tradition is a legend that says animals can speak on Christmas Eve as a reward for their role in the birth of Jesus. Today, children often try to get their pets to speak a word or two. Another unique Polish tradition is carp being the main dish of Christmas celebrations.
Sinterklaas brings presents to Netherlands’ children on Dec. 5; St. Nicholas Day is on the 6th. From Dutch folklore, Sinterklaas lives in Madrid, Spain. He arrives in the Netherlands via boat on the first Saturday after Nov. 11. Each year, he arrives in a different harbour.
Dutch children believe Santa Claus, or Kerstman, comes from Finland on Christmas Eve to deliver more presents. Christmas Day involves a church service and family meals, however, celebrations continue into Dec. 26 with more family gatherings and shopping.
And of course, many traditions are influenced strongly by those of our neighbours to the south, with the publication of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem T’was the Night Before Christmas in 1823 being the largest influencer.
I’ve run out of space for this column but leave you with visions of sugar plums . . and turkey and ham and mincemeat and candy canes and . . . .
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk